Student Spotlight: Sarah Dance

Sarah Dance in China

Environmental Sciences major Sarah Dance studied abroad in China, where she focused her time on plant identification and Chinese culture. With goals of becoming a professor one day, Dance was excited to grow both personally and professionally and experience the world from a different point of view. An engineer at heart, Dance is also very active in the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES).

How did this experience impact you?

I learned that international problems can never be solved with a solely western approach. There has to be a wide variety of people with different cultural backgrounds at the table to solve international issues. No environmental issue or solution is black and white; there are always going to gray areas. The Chinese people I spoke with were more aware and worried about Climate Change than most of the Americans I know. They also felt demonized by the outside world for their industrialization, despite China making significant progress recently in solar power.

How has this experience prepared you for your future career?

I intend on going to graduate school for many years, doing a post-doc and working toward becoming a tenured professor and academic advisor. Considering the number of students in America that come from China to study, it was a critical experience for me to experience immersive Chinese culture. To be the best classmate, coworker, friend, teacher, mentor or mentee for someone is to be respectful of their background and empathize with them. China was such an eye-opening experience on how much I don’t know about other cultures and how much more work I need to do to be successful in my career.

What did you enjoy most about your experience?

I’ve never had an easy time making friends, but I made so many in such a short amount of time there. I loved meeting new people and eating in their homes and seeing how they lived. I learned about life in rural China from textbooks, but it was nothing like living in their homes and connecting so deeply, despite how different our lives were.

What did you learn about yourself?

I always thought of myself as the most open-minded person I knew. I realized my biases quickly while being immersed in another country for weeks with little contact to the western world. It really challenged me to put away ideals I had been born and raised with to connect with locals. Realizing these biases has led to me being more empathetic to students studying abroad in our country.

Would you recommend this experience to other students?

YES. It’s more appealing to go to Europe or Australia for a study abroad experience. Those experiences, while still valuable, will never challenge you in the same ways as travelling to a non-English speaking country that has developing regions. You will see what you are made of and really learn to navigate the world in a more meaningful way.

Any advice to incoming students?

DO STUDY ABROAD! Plan for it as soon as possible, a year before ideally. There is a wealth of resources on and off campus to help you achieve this goal. Leaving college, it might be many years before you can afford to travel on your own and it’s never going to be the same as studying abroad. You can find funding and support for where you want to go and it will be one of the best experiences of your college career. My study abroad trip was supported by the Ron and Dale Terry Student Assistance and Enrichment Fund.

Have you completed any other hands-on experiences?

I worked in the NC State Hydrogeochemistry Soil Lab for a year and am now writing a research paper for my PI for the Journal of Environmental Quality. My research opened doors for paid graduate school options, enhanced my resume and helped me decide on a career choice. There is nothing like hands-on work to know if you’re really going to enjoy the field of science you want to go into.

What do you enjoy most about being a College of Natural Resources student?

I came from Engineering and it was incredibly competitive and pretentious toward other colleges. The College of Natural Resources is such a diverse place that values all kinds of learning that goes beyond our GPA and class rank.